Do you live in the happiest country in the world? Recently I read the World Happiness Report (Edited by John Helliwell, Richard Layard and Jeffrey Sachs), which quantifies the levels of happiness in many countries around the world through data from Gallup World Polls from 2005 to 2011. Despite the economic advantages that many people in the United States enjoy as compared to others in the world, we are not the happiest country in the world. In fact, we are not even in the top 10. The United States is number 11 in happiness, behind Denmark, Finland, Norway, the Netherlands, Canada, Switzerland, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, and Ireland. Even more interesting is that our level of happiness has remained about the same for decades.
The authors of the report provide some suggestions for why Americans are not the happiest people in the world, including:
- anxieties and uncertainty;
- social and economic inequality;
- a lack of social trust (trust of other people);
- declining confidence in our government;
- the craving of some for higher incomes; and
- our persistent desire for new material wants (the latest smartphone, the latest fashions).
To some extent there is truth to each of these ideas, but I think that there are other aspects which may make Americans unhappy as compared to people living in some other countries. Some reasons would fall under “social and economic inequality,” but others seem deeply rooted in our value system and the way that we lead our lives.
Other Reasons for Unhappiness of Americans
1. Many people lack affordable housing. In poorer countries, many people have no housing at all and lack things like running water and heat. Here in the United States, most people can access shelter, but many spend a lot of their paycheck paying for it with little left over to spend on other things. This makes us feel unhappy.
2. Many people lack access to health care. In poorer countries, people die from diseases that you never hear about in the United States, like malaria. In the United States, we tend to get chronic diseases, like diabetes and heart disease. Regardless, in both poor countries and in the United States, there are some people who cannot see a doctor for sickness or injury because it is not affordable. And so they often stay sick or spend all of their savings to get well, making them unhappy.
3. We work ourselves hard. We work a lot in the United States. We have multiple jobs. We work when we are sick, late at night, after we have just had a baby, and even when we are supposed to be taking vacation. As a result, we do not get enough sleep, and there is less time to enjoy the things for which we are working so hard. This makes many of us tired and unhappy.
4. We don’t take good care of ourselves. We tend to make choices that are hard on our bodies and do not pay attention to the ways that we can prevent diseases allowing us to live a long life. There is a long list of things that we could do to take better care of ourselves, including exercising more, eating better, sleeping better, stress management techniques, and getting preventive care. As Americans, we are not particularly good at taking care of ourselves.
So what do you think? Why has happiness not increased in the United States over many years? Why are we 11th in happiness globally?
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Category: Sources of Stress